10 sustainable development courses you can audit for free

How does the world meet the resource needs of the present without using up all the resources? People living now have needs, but they also have a responsibility to future generations who need to survive and thrive. That’s the balance that sustainable development seeks to address. It applies to agriculture, infrastructure, energy, water availability, and more. Sustainable development is more vital than ever as the global population increases. Here are ten courses available to audit for free:

The Age of Sustainable Development

Columbia University

Time to complete: 14 weeks (about 30 hours)

This course helps students understand key pathways and challenges to sustainable development. Weekly topics include inequality around the world, the history of inequality, human rights and gender inequality, education, and the Sustainable Development Goals. The course takes 14 weeks to complete with around 1-3 hours per week.

The Sustainable Development Goals – A Global, Transdisciplinary Vision for the Future

University of Copenhagen

Time to complete: 3 weeks (about 10 hours)

The UN launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. 193 member states adopted it. This course provides a historical overview, an introduction to the SDGs, how progress is measured, and how they’re relevant for managing global systems. With a 3-hour weekly commitment, students can finish the course in 3 weeks.

Driving Business Towards the Sustainable Development Goals

Erasmus University Rotterdam

Time to complete: 7 weeks (about 15 hours)

This course teaches students what the SDGs are, why they matter, and how individuals can participate. Topics include the role of business in sustainable development, the challenges, and how to evaluate how effective current business strategies are. There are seven units spread over 7 weeks. Most weeks require just 2 hours of work (one week has 3 hours worth of study).

Environmental Gamechanger – Lead The Way To Sustainable Development


Time to complete: 7 weeks (2-4 hours per week)

This environmental studies course empowers students to take charge and promote change in their own lives. Students learn what sustainability is, problems related to sustainability, and how different societal actors use sustainability. They’ll also develop the skills needed to achieve sustainable change and apply them to a sustainability issue in real life. There are seven modules. With the audit track, access to the course materials is limited.

Natural Resources for Sustainable Development


Time to complete: 12 weeks (4-6 hours per week)

In this course, students will learn about the efforts to sustainably manage extractive industry (oil, gas, mining) investments. Natural resource governance is complicated but possible with communication and policies. Governing these industries has long-term economic development impacts. This course is intermediate, though no prerequisites are required. It’s best for graduate students, climate change activists, sustainable development practitioners, and extractive practitioners. There are 12 modules. The audit track offers limited course material access.

Transforming Our World: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals


Time to complete: 1 week (2-4 hours)

What are the sustainable development goals? Why are they important? These questions and more are explored in this intermediate environmental studies course. It’s designed for anyone who wants to learn more about the SDGs, including graduate and advanced undergrad students, policymakers and sustainable development practitioners, and private-sector actors who want to be more sustainable. There are six modules. Access to the materials is limited with the free audit track.

Sustainable Development: The Post-Capitalist Order


Time to complete: 8 weeks (2-4 hours per week)

Designed for policy professionals, development practitioners, and graduate and advanced undergrad students, this course offers an in-depth look at past and current economies and why sustainable development is so important. Topics include gender equality, international trade, education, and market economics. There are 8 modules. With the free audit track, access to some course materials is limited.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals: An Interdisciplinary Academic Introduction


Time to complete: 7 weeks (3-5 hours per week)

A team of interdisciplinary experts and practitioners offer their insight into sustainable development in this course. Students will learn how the SDGs relate to global challenges like climate change and poverty, understand the complexities of the individual targets, and how the SDGs are implemented. They’ll also reflect on the challenges and gain evidence-based knowledge about each SDG. As an introductory course, students will need a secondary school education. There are six modules. As with other courses, the free audit track limits access to some course materials.

The Science and Practice of Sustainable Development


Time to complete: 11 weeks (8-10 hours per week)

This course is part of the Leadership in Global Development MicroMasters. Students should have completed the other three courses in the program and have experience working in the development sector. A strong interest instead of experience is also acceptable. The course explores sustainable development through different theories and case studies in a range of disciplines. There are 10 modules. The audit track limits some access to course materials.

How to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals


Time to complete: 7 weeks (4-6 hours per week)

Students will learn the scale, scope, and establishment of the SDGs, as well as what society needs to do to implement the SDGs and all the planning and financing needed for progress. The course also covers the role of civil society and the business sector. There are seven modules. The course targets policy professionals, sustainable development practitioners, and advanced undergrad and graduate students interested in the topic. When students take the audit track, they may not have access to all the course materials, like graded assignments.

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About Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.
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